Tag Archives: bigoted

Out of Balance

In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen recalls the healing work she did with a Holocaust survivor, whose response to the enormity of the spiritual pain he lived with was to close off feelings toward people and to be “cautious with this heart.” Dr. Remen relates that he joined her on retreat after he was diagnosed with cancer. Initially he was belligerent to strangers, but through inner stillness exercises and introspection he had a transformational experience. One day, while meditating, he sensed a deep pinkish light emanating from his chest. He felt enclosed by a beautiful rose. Troubled by the experience, he took a walk on the beach and began a silent dialogue with G-d. He asked the Creator whether it is all right to love strangers. G-d’s answer jolted him: “You make strangers, I don’t.” In that instant, the Holocaust survivor’s feelings of interpersonal distance began to melt. Strangers were no longer strangers. It was all right to love a stranger.

-Rabbi Laibl Wolf
“Tif’eret: Growing a Wise Heart” (pp 154-156)
Practical Kabbalah: A Guide to Jewish Wisdom for Everyday Life

I’ve been feeling off balance lately. Most of it has to do with how I choose to react to what I see, hear, and read about in the world around me, both in real life, and via the Internet. I’m not encouraged by what I see, but if you’ve been reading my “meditations” for the past week or so, you already know that. I found I needed to write this “extra meditation” to try and re-establish a bit of balance and to reduce my desire to wad up the whole world of religion like a piece of tissue paper contaminated with dripping bile, and toss it in the nearest toilet.

For Christians, this is a time of year (ideally) when they re-attach to the true meaning of loving and giving, by expressing the will of God with their lives in the community around them. If God was willing to send His “only begotten son” to suffer and die for us so that we could be reconciled to the Father, then why shouldn’t a Christian “pass it on”, so to speak, and offer grace, kindness, and mercy to the next fellow, regardless of who they happen to be? After all, Jesus died for us while we were still enemies of God (Romans 5;10). Must we only show goodness to those people who look, act, and believe like we do? Why even “tax collectors” and “pagans” do that (Matthew 5:42-48). Nevertheless, the religious community, or some portions of it, confirm the belief in the secular world that we are all bigoted haters and want to force the whole world to be exactly like we are.

“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me, God.”

That’s part of the oath people used to take when swearing to tell the truth in court. They don’t make you say it anymore because someone was offended with God and we wouldn’t want to God to offend someone, would we (this is sarcasm)?

On the other hand, we shouldn’t go out of our way to be so dedicated to what we think of as “truth” that we automatically condemn, revile, disdain, and hate those people who apparently (perhaps by putting up a Christmas tree) don’t have “the truth”. After all, they must be evil and wrong and we have to stop them by telling them how lousy their cherished faith is, don’t we (that’s more sarcasm)?

OK, I’m still out of balance. Quickly, someone toss me one of those poles used by tightrope walkers, or better yet, another story from Rabbi Laibl’s book (pg 147):

Once upon a time a king had two close friends who rebelled against his kingdom. The king seemed to have no choice but to execute the law – the death penalty. But he could not bring himself to kill his friends. Instead, he erected a tightrope over the courtyard at a precarious height. Each prisoner was allowed to walk across the tightrope to freedom. The chances were slim, yet miraculously the first prisoner succeeded. The second prisoner called out to his friend for advice, and the freed man obliged. He called back, “Whenever I felt myself beginning to list to one side I didn’t wait until my weight was there but immediately compensated.

This Hassidic tale invokes many portions of the Bible, including how God sent His Son so that we might all have a chance to conquer the death penalty by “walking the straight and narrow”. Notice though, that in order to navigate the rope, you couldn’t be an extremist. If you went too far to the left or to the right, you would be killed. In fact, when you even thought you were starting to slip to one side, to survive, you had to immediately shift your weight in the opposite direction.

Also, notice that the freed man went out of his way to help his friend rather than taking his salvation and running away. Notice that even though the king (God) had every right to execute the rebels, because they were his friends and he had compassion, he tempered his justice with mercy. Justice was not thrown away, but he gave the rebels a chance, probably more of one than they deserved. Justice was balanced with mercy and grace.

We don’t do balance (or mercy and grace) very well in religion and yet, it’s all over our history. Moses Maimonidies (Rambam), as quoted in Rabbi Laibl’s book (pg 146) “counseled his disciples to take the middle path.” I know I talked on this exact same topic last week, but plenty of people still aren’t getting it (especially the majority who don’t read my blog, though they may not agree with me, even if they chose to read these “meditations”). It is one thing to say that you disagree with someone based on your convictions and your understanding of the Bible, but it’s another to condemn them and to believe God will destroy them. Some compare a Christian who celebrates Christmas to a husband to cheats on his wife (and there are plenty of marital metaphors in the Bible), but that metaphor breaks down at some point. A husband and wife are both human; both equals, while God is not human and we can not aspire to ever be His equal. A husband may come close to really understanding everything his wife is about, but we have absolutely no clue exactly what God is all about.

In the end, even if God chooses to condemn others and even if we were “right”, should we have treated those others negatively and with such extremist attitudes and even pride, or should we have balanced our approach to them as God did for us, tempering justice with mercy? Many religious people want to dump the justice onto others but covet the mercy all for themselves, not passing it along. Doing this, are we really God’s children?

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Walking Together to the House of Prayer

Walking TogetherUnfortunately, intolerance among Jews can be found in all directions. Shortly after Kristallnacht, a Reform synagogue in Rhode Island conducted a special service to which they invited recent Jewish refugees from Europe. Many of those refugees came to the service wearing hats or kippot, which at the time was against Reform practices. A prominent member of the congregation demanded that everyone remove their head coverings. Although the rabbi of the congregation was extremely upset by the man’s behavior, he felt too intimidated to do anything.

Similarly, there are some Orthodox Jews who too easily brand their less observant coreligionists as “heretics” or “non-believers.” Yet, prominent sages such as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and the Chazon Ish have ruled that we live in a time of God’s concealment and therefore cannot apply the religious laws concerning heresy to modern-day Jews who question their faith. Furthermore, it is wrong to harm those who deny even Judaism’s most basic beliefs. Not only should we not hurt such people, we should help them if the situation ever presents itself.

from the Lev Echad blog
“E Pluribus Unum”

While blogger Asher aptly illustrates how different groups of Jews can be less than generous toward each other, this isn’t exclusively a Jewish issue. Certainly different groups in humanity have distrusted and harmed each other throughout history, and this can also be seen in various faith groups, including Christianity. The difference here is that, as I mentioned the other day, being Jewish isn’t just a matter of holding to a collection of beliefs or a certain faith. Jews are tied to each other and connected to God in a way no other people group can claim. Any Christian can renounce his or her faith, but a Jew is always a Jew.

I suppose it’s rather tragic for me to say that “any Christian can renounce his or her faith”. It makes it sound as if our commitment to Christ is too easily ignored or broken, and we see this sometimes. We also see, as Asher points out in Judaism, that the different denominations or groups of Christians cling to their own specific religious views and can take shots at each other, believing that if you don’t believe, say, and do as they believe, say, and do, you are not really a Christian and you are not really saved.

Christianity can be very “tunnel-visioned” in its approach to God and the Bible, especially for those groups that have a very literal understanding of what the Bible says (in English, ignoring the original languages and contexts involved). How Asher ended his blog article suggests another way that we Christians can look at each other, at Jews, and at the rest of humanity:

It takes a considerable amount of humility and tolerance to refrain from forcing our beliefs upon others, but that’s exactly what we should strive for. To do so, objective ethical standards must be upheld, while the more subjective areas of life can be left to the individual. It’s ironic that people tend to focus so much on the subjective when it is really the objective that matters most. For example, some regard those with whom they disagree politically or religiously as bad people, instead of simply judging their overall behavior to determine what kind of person they are. This needs to change if we are to produce a better world.

One of the unique aspects of Judaism is learning about all the different roads people take that lead them to God and a life of goodness. While this is certainly a fascinating phenomenon, it can also be a great impediment to how we treat one another. Therefore, our goal in life should not be to turn all our fellow Jews into ideological and/or religious replicas of ourselves. Rather, it should be to guide – not force – others into a life of serving God and His children in a way that best matches their individual personality.

Christians tend to look at the world as made up of two groups: saved and unsaved, us and them. While we are mandated (see Matthew 28:19-20) to go and make disciples (not converts, disciples) of the unbelieving people around us, we also sometimes see the unbelieving people around us as “the enemy”. It’s pretty difficult to convince a non-believer of the love of Christ if we don’t even like non-believers. It’s even harder to show the unbelieving world Christ’s love if they see that we don’t even like each other due to our different theologies.

Asher might suggest that we try to put our differences aside, both between different groups of Christians and between Christians and everybody else. Try to look at people the way God sees people:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. –John 3:16-17

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. –Romans 5:9-11

The opportunity to be reconciled to God is universally applied to all people everywhere. All we have to do is accept it and start living the life that God designed for us. He didn’t offer reconciliation to only a favored few and He didn’t extend His love only to a select group. It is true that God chose the Children of Israel, but it wasn’t because they were the best, the brightest, or the most numerous:

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. –Deuteronomy 7:7-9

House of PrayerWe also know that God’s love is not limited to Israel but extends to the whole world (John 3:16) and that what He created in Israel was to be a light to the nations, so that we could all call the House of God, a house of prayer:

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. –Isaiah 2:2-4

And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” –Isaiah 60:6-7

So here we are, fighting and bickering with each other without considering how God sees us all. He’s like a Father who watches His small children argue and fight about who He loves the best, but in truth, He loves us all, just as we love all of our children, even though they are different from each other, and even though they sometimes act foolishly.

I read something written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman which he applies to the Jewish people, but I think we can also adapt it for the rest of us:

The sages tell us that our father Jacob never died. “Since his children are alive, he is alive.”

Each and every Jew is the personification of his father Jacob, and the heart of each and every Jew is alive and beating strong. To say about any one of them that he is spiritually dead is to pronounce our father Jacob dead. If to you it appears that way, the fault is in you, not in the Jew you observe.

G-d sees only good in them. He will make great miracles for them and they will be safe.

We could say that our “Rebbe”, Jesus the Christ, the Jewish Messiah, lives in the heart of each of his disciples. He died but has risen and he sits at the Father’s right hand. He is alive in us and he makes us alive in him so that through him, we can be sons and daughters of the Father. We absolutely must remember though, that God sees the good in all people and He will make great miracles for everyone, and accepting God, we will all be safe in Him.

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song. –Psalm 95:1-2